Miles Kington: The ghost in the gleaming vintage machine

'Has it ever occurred to you that cars might be haunted in the same way that houses are?'
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Today – a brand new ghost story specially for Christmas 2001


HAVE YOU ever noticed that people who read magazines with the words "Classic Cars" in the title don't really look the part? You might imagine that they would be dressed in classic car clothes – knickerbockers, plus fours, tweeds, ulsters, that sort of thing – but they never seem to be.

My friend Basil was an exception. He loved classic cars but he didn't love classic car magazines, which he thought were for armchair dreamers. He liked to be out there grappling with his car (an old Hispano Suiza), either driving it along the classic English roads (he never went on to motorways) or supine underneath it, fiddling with its innards.

"These days, you have to do all your own mechanical work," he once told me. "The cars are still in existence but damned if I can find a Hispano Suiza mechanic. They've all died off."

"There must be fanatics who still work on them," I said.

"Not for money," said Basil. "Only for love. Like me. Anyway, if you do the work yourself, at least you know it's been done properly."

A reader writes: Have we come to the ghost yet?

Miles Kington writes: No, no, not yet. Have patience.

A reader writes: OK, I will. But let me know when we get there.

However, even Basil was puzzled by one strange intermittent rattling noise which came from somewhere near the off back wheel of his gleaming, upholstered, stately Hispano Suiza. For weeks it wouldn't be there and then there it was again. He looked everywhere, and couldn't find anything wrong. It was beginning to get on his nerves when one day, at a dinner party, he met a man who thought he might be able to solve it.

"Know much about cars, do you?" said Basil.

"Not a lot," said the man," but I know a bit about the spirit world."

"The spirit world??" said Basil. "What's that got to do with cars?"

"I am a bit of what you might call an exorcist," said the man. "I trace what you might call ghosts, and try and get them calmed down enough to move on to the next plane, and leave the place in peace, and what you might call unhaunted."

"I still don't see what this has got to do with cars," said Basil.

"Has it ever occurred to you that cars might be haunted in the same way that houses are?" said the man. "If a person had died distressingly in a car, through illness or an accident, their spirit might be anchored there."

"And be driven round the countryside?" said Basil. "Are you seriously suggesting that a car might be haunted and take its ghost with it?"

"I am used to being disbelieved," said the man affably. "I am only saying that it's worth investigating."

After six more months of unexplained occasional rattling, Basil agreed, and as he had kept the man's card, he called him in to have a look.

"It's definitely got an attendant spirit," said the man, as he hovered round the gleaming car. "I sense great unhappiness in the back. It's hard to be sure, but I think a very distraught lady threw herself from this car to her death after being jilted by her lover. Well, if you leave me alone for a while, I think we can sort it out."

Whatever the man did seemed to have worked, as the rattle stayed away. The man sent Basil a bill (quite stiff) and he paid it (quite reluctantly). Then two months later the rattle came back. In despair, Basil took the car to a bog-standard garage, where the mechanic discovered that someone (probably Basil) had left a screwdriver inside the panel of the rear door, and that was what was rattling around from time to time.

"How much do I owe you for that?" said Basil, shaken.

"Don't worry," said the mechanic. "On the house."

Which all goes to show that sometimes a mechanic can be really quick and efficient and cheap, and a ghost specialist can be shoddy, unreliable and expensive.

A reader writes: Hold on! Does that mean there wasn't a ghost a all?

Miles Kington writes: Yes. Uncanny, isn't it?

A reader writes: Then this isn't a ghost story at all! I want my money back!

But there was no answer, and this was because Mr Kington had vanished mysteriously to Canada for the whole holiday period, wishing his readers a very Happy Christmas.